TOMYMIND COLLEEN NAUDÉ
EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW is one of the rights enjoyed by citizens in a democratic system. It’s that right that two of the accused in one of South Africa’s biggest fraud cases – which has now been dragging on for almost seven years – are invoking. Former Tigon CEO Gary Porritt and former director of the company Sue Bennett were arrested in December 2002 and March 2003 respectively on 3 200 charges of fraud, money laundering, theft and violations of the Companies Act. That followed suspicious share trading by Tigon executives that had been uncovered by Finance Week (as Finweek was then known) as far back as April 2002.
Last week, both accused appealed to the Constitutional Court after the High Court in Johannesburg ordered Legal Aid SA to allocate two advocates at a cost of around R3 000/day per advocate to each of them. They believe such ‘cheap’ legal teams won’t do justice to the defence of their complex case and they want the Constitutional Court to order much more experienced – read expensive – advocates to defend them. Otherwise, they say, they won’t receive a fair hearing, especially due to the complexities of the case.
The long list of alleged violations is the result of an alleged series of complicated accounting manipulations that led, among other things, to unsuspecting investors being misled with promises of large amounts supposedly tied up in Tigon. The duped victims received no compensation at all and have been waiting for years to see the law take its course.
White-collar criminals, who conjure up unbelievably ingenious schemes, are often too slick to be caught. When they actually are, prosecuting them can take for ever. And most of those masterminds also succeed in using delaying tactics to draw out the prosecution process for as long as possible. The latest move by Porritt and Bennett looks suspiciously like a delaying tactic.
There doesn’t seem to be any reason why both of them – who have in any case been able to cough up around R23m in legal fees up to end-May this year – should receive special treatment.
They won’t get support from the general public – especially not from their alleged victims – for their attempts at wasting more of taxpayers’ money in seeking preferential treatment compared to other accused.